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The Solomon Islands intervention is a high risk strategy

By Jeffrey Wall - posted Friday, 3 December 2021


It had been my intention to support, with qualifications, the decision by the Australian Government to send a defence and police contingent to the Solomon Islands.

Fortunately I decided that before I did so I would research as much as I could on the factors behind the unrest that culminated in a fairly high level of destruction of property, principally in Honiara's Chinatown, last week.

The Australian Government responded within 24 hours to a request from the SI Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare, to provided assistance to restore law and order.

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It apparently did so after consulting with the Prime Ministers of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

So far that all seemed reasonable, and offered a chance for Australia to provide regional leadership. To date the mission has been successful, with law and order quickly restored.

But the more I read in to the background to the recent lawlessness the more concerned I became. It is apparent that some of the issues at play are long standing, and to an extent remain "unfinished business" from the very costly Australian-led RAMSI mission that finally concluded in 2017.

My research took me to an excellent piece in the DevPolicy Blog written by the highly respected Solomon Islander, Transform Aqorau, headed "Solomon Islands' slippery slide to self-implosion".

His piece is highly uncomplimentary of Sogavare and his Government, and I will outline just a couple of the points in his critique.

Other writers have widely commented on the unpopularity of the Sogavare Government, especially in the largest province of Malaita. To an extent that unpopularity is long standing, but it has certainly increased since Sogavare, without notice, switched the SI's diplomatic relationships from Taiwan to the People's Republic of China in 2018.

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One hopes that DFAT, advising the Prime Minister, took into account these factors before the decision was taken to send a mission virtually immediately.

I have come to the conclusion that the decision while understandable is a "high risk" one that the Federal Government needs to review with urgency. And the main purpose of that review should be to plan an early exit strategy, with a handover to a small contingent of Pacific Island police and defence personnel to take place as soon as possible.

The Australian police and defence force contingent has already been joined by a small police contingent from PNG and a larger one from the Solomon Islands.

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About the Author

Jeffrey Wall CSM CBE is a Brisbane Political Consultant and has served as Advisor to the PNG Foreign Minister, Sir Rabbie Namaliu Prime Minister 1988-1992 and Speaker 1994-1997.

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All articles by Jeffrey Wall

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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